Prime Minister Theresa May has been told by a member of her own cabinet to officially rule out a no deal Brexit.
Business Minister Richard Harrington told an audience of business leaders in Leeds that leaving the EU with no trade agreement would be a “disaster” for the UK and bring chaos to the nation’s businesses.
Mr Harrington, who has publicly stated before that he could not support any Government policy that involved leaving with no deal, said that he believed the Prime Minister shared his concerns but said now was the time for her to formally rule out crashing out on March 29 with no arrangement in place.
Speaking at the Leeds Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, Mr Harrington, who was born and brought up in the city, said: “I cannot, in having business card which reads Minister for Business and Industry, allow business to go to hell in a hand cart and I know the Prime Minister does not want that either.
“She has said that many times, that we don’t want no deal. Well fine, let’s make that a position and rule it out.”
Mr Harrington, who voted to remain the 2016 referendum, said he backed and would continue to back Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which he characterised as a decent compromise between the UK and EU.
The difference I have with the Prime Minister for me I think we should rule out a hard Brexit, it is a disaster for business and it is a disaster for our country.Richard Harrington
However, he said that he only stopped short of backing amendments in the House of Commons this week to rule out no deal as he wished to allow the Prime Minister time to seek any further amendments from Brussels.
Mr Harrington told the audience: “I cannot stand idly by and see a system which destroys business, which the prosperity of this country is based on.
“I feel to myself the test was, if there is a system that allows the people who voted to have what they wanted but allows for business as usual for the integrated British business with the European Union, which is comparatively frictionless trade etc, I would support it.
“And by enlarge that is what the Prime Minister’s deal does and that is the reason why I support it, why I voted for it and why I will vote for it again because it is a compromise. And I think that he majority of people, no matter what their views are, are compromise merchants.
“The position we are in now is that the Prime Minister’s deal has been completely rejected by more than 200 votes.
“I don’t really understand why most Labour people voted against it because most of them are in favour of some sort of Customs Union.
“And give or take, that is what it is.
“I understand the views of the DUP and others with this backstop which they have become totally obsessed with. A lot of people don’t really know what it is, an insurance policy, but they don’t trust the European Union and think it is a secret plan that we will always remain in this void of a Customs Union.
“The Prime Minister is absolutely trying to find a compromise.
“I do really do wish her well, I don’t want any sort of turmoil, I want the whole thing sorted out.
“But the difference I have with the Prime Minister for me I think we should rule out a hard Brexit, it is a disaster for business and it is a disaster for our country.”
Mr Harrington said he accepted that it was the PM’s prerogative to take issue with his views but that he could not alter his position.
“I believe now is the time to say it is off the table, it is a disaster and we cannot have it. It will be absolute chaos and be an absolute disaster.
“If you work in a car factory you are now having to order parts for delivery for April, May June as part of the normal course of business.
“Surely business should know under what rules they will come into the country, how long it is going to take and are they actually able from a regulatory point of view to sell the products that they are exporting on that period?
“Most of the trade deals we have are through the European Union, it is not just with the EU itself. And that is why we need a transition period so that whatever does happen business has plenty of time to get through it, and that is why we need to get rid of a hard deal.”
He added that, despite the heavy defeat for Mrs May’s deal, he felt there was still a chance it could get through.
“We will all have to do what we think is best. I believe a deal will be done.
“Some people may say this a victory of hope over logic and it might be, but he majority of people in Parliament are in favour of some sort of Customs Union I think because it facilitates what a lot of people want.”